As millions of green-clad revelers raised their glasses across the globe to mark St Patrick’s Day yesterday, Ireland had high hopes that the festivities would bring a much-needed boost to the economy at home.
“It is probably one of the biggest global days around the world, when the Irish tribe showcases all things Irish,” Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons said. “If you’re the president of any corporation and you were offered a chance where cities and world leaders stop and hold civic receptions and celebrate your product — you just wouldn’t be able to put a value on it. It’s priceless.”
Political and tourism chiefs see the weekend-long cultural festival as a chance to repair some of the damage the eurozone crisis has done to Ireland’s international reputation.
From Egypt’s pyramids to the Sydney Opera House, about 70 global landmarks will be bathed in green light in honor of Ireland’s national day — while in Dublin itself, more than half a million people were expected to line the streets for Sunday’s colorful annual parade.
With marching bands, dancing troupes and, of course, copious quantities of Guinness flowing, officials hope the crowds will spend heavily in Dublin’s pubs, shops, hotels and restaurants as they “paint the city green.”
Dublin’s Chamber of Commerce hopes the weekend will give city businesses a 50 million euro (US$65 million) boost.
Guinness is one company set to do well out of St Patrick’s Day — the Dublin-based brewer expects 13 million glasses of its stout, affectionately known as “the black stuff,” to be drunk across the world yesterday alone.
Famed for its double-digit growth in the 1990s, Ireland’s once-proud “Celtic Tiger” economy crashed in the late 2000s, when a property bubble burst.
The government was forced to seek an 85 billion euro bailout from the EU and IMF in 2010.
While Dublin appears to be pulling itself away from the brink of financial collapse, growth remains feeble — with the economy expanding just 0.2 percent in the last quarter.
“We’ve had a pretty terrible external reputation over the course of the last five years since the economic crash,” Dublin City University professor of government Gary Murphy said. “If Ireland prides itself as a good country to do business and visit, it’s important we sell ourselves as such to the world.”
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and 19 members of his Cabinet have traveled to 21 countries across the globe this weekend, selling “brand Ireland” in a series of trade, investment and tourism-focused meetings.
In New York, where an estimated 2 million people turned the city into the Big Green Apple with a massive parade on Saturday, Kenny urged the estimated 40 million Americans with Irish ancestry to return home for a visit.
“You’ll be spoiled for choice,” he told a breakfast with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
His invitation is part of a government-supported initiative called “The Gathering” aimed at encouraging the huge Irish diaspora, which is 60 million strong by some estimates, to come and connect with their roots — and spend some cash.
For the first time ever, visitors from abroad were invited to march in Sunday’s parade through Dublin, and almost 6,000 people from Mexico to Malaysia registered to take part.
Ireland has introduced a range of other measures to boost tourism, including cutting taxes on the hospitality sector and visa waivers for some countries outside the EU.
“St Patrick’s Day is an icon of Irishness the world over and from a business point of view, it’s hugely important to the tourism sector in Dublin and essentially kicks off the Irish tourism season,” Dublin Chamber of Commerce president Gina Quin said.
“We expect 800,000 people to be involved in the festivities in the city, with 120,000 of those fresh visitors coming from overseas,” she added.